From Modern Healthcare, today:

Catholic institutions across the country filed 12 federal lawsuits against HHS alleging the department’s mandate over contraception coverage for employer-provided health plans violated their religious freedoms.

The plaintiffs include 11-hospital Franciscan Alliance, Mishawaka, IN, and five-hospital Catholic Health Services of Long Island (NY).

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of 43 Catholic hospitals, schools and churches across the nation in U.S. District Court in eight states and in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops President Thomas [sic] Dolan issued a statement saying they will continue to work with President Barack Obama’s administration to resolve the concerns, but that “time was running out,” forcing the Catholic institutions to resort to legal actions.

“Though the conference is not a party to the lawsuits, we applaud this courageous action by so many individual dioceses, charities, hospitals and schools across the nation, in coordination with the law firm of Jones Day,” Dolan said in a statement….

HHS issued an interim final rule in August 2011 requiring that employer-based health plans provide contraception coverage with no out-of-pocket cost. The administration failed to fully quell criticism of the policy with a modification in February stipulating that insurance companies would pay for the benefit if employers raised religious objections.

One of those 43 institutions is the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, which filed a 57-page lawsuit listing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, among others, as defendants. The school’s president, the Rev. Thomas Jenkins, sent a message to the university’s community on Monday.

Seems to me Fr. Jenkins bends over backwards to distance himself from Catholic teaching against the use of contraceptives:

Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about: it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the Government from providing such services. Many of our faculty, staff and students – both Catholic and non-Catholic – have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.

Still, I give Fr. Jenkins credit for joining in the lawsuit, which requires a bit of crow eating. And, in fact, the lawsuits are not about the use of contraception but about the freedom to practice religion.

Back to the article:

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend also filed its own lawsuit and questioned how the government exempted certain institutions from the mandate.

“The government has no place defining ‘religious employer’ so narrowly that it only includes houses of worship,” a diocese statement read.This reduces the freedom of religion to the freedom of worship.”

Franciscan University President Terence Henry released a YouTube video stating “the board of trustees… unanimously approved this unprecedented action to stop the HHS mandate, which amounts to nothing less than a grave threat to our constitutionally protected First Amendment right to freedom of religion.” He also does a great job promoting Catholic teaching on contraceptives.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dI4NEUNR-V8[/youtube]

Last week Franciscan was the first to announce it was dropping health insurance for its students, followed quickly by Ave Maria University’s announcement that it, too, is considering making the same move.

Ave Maria filed a lawsuit against the mandate in February. Here’s the new total, quoting Catholic News Agency:

At least 11 previous lawsuits have already been filed against the mandate by states, colleges, private employers and organizations throughout the U.S.

Now, 12 new lawsuits are being filed by 43 dioceses, hospitals, schools and church agencies in a dozen different jurisdictions across the country.

The Archdioceses of New York and Washington, D.C, are part of the lawsuits, as are Catholic Charities organizations in several dioceses and the Catholic publishing group Our Sunday Visitor.

Our Sunday Visitor simultaneously released an inspiring editorial, “Why we are suing the government”:

It seems to us hardly a coincidence that this suit is taking place in our centennial year. Founded 100 years ago by then-Father John Noll, Our Sunday Visitor from its beginning sought to inform Catholics about the issues of the day, form them in the Faith, and defend that Faith from attack. It was Father John Noll who stood up to those who attacked Catholic immigrants as un-American and seditious. It was Father John Noll who faced down false preachers who spread slanders about the Church. It was Father John Noll who resisted the power of the Ku Klux Klan when it was such a powerful political force. And it is in his courageous spirit that we invoke as we engage in this great struggle today.

We know that many Americans – and even many Catholics – are confused about this debate. Politicians and elements of the news media have sought to make it a war against women or contraception, and they have portrayed the Church as seeking to impose its values on others or as being covertly political.

We also acknowledge that many Catholics do not understand the reasons for the Church’s moral opposition to contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. This lack of understanding points to a significant catechetical need that the Church should address internally.

We reiterate, however, that this is not about the legality of such practices in society, nor is it about how many Catholics understand the Church’s position. It is about the Church’s right to practice what it preaches.

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